OERs and accessibility: uh–oh

I teach online courses for Foothill College. I have not required students to purchase a textbook.  Instead, I have curated a set of open educational resources, all available online, that includes websites, videos, and PDF documents. My challenge now is that beginning with this quarter, I must meet a new standard: “Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.”

Knowing that I needed to meet that standard, I joined a voluntary webinar that the college offered to help us instructors know how to make our courses accessible.  I listened and learned. Toward the end, I asked this question: “So from what you are saying, the easiest way for an instructor to make a course accessible is to make it all text-based.  No video.  No audio.  No infographics.”  The instructor replied, “Well, I hate to say this, but yes.”

My first reaction was, “Good grief!  We have all these new multimedia tools and resources for learning, but I can’t use them in an online course!”

Once I vented a bit and calmed down, I set myself a challenge, “I’ll try!  Let’s see if I can create an online course that uses open educational resources and will still pass a review by the college’s accessibility staff.

I scoured the Internet and found a great collection of resources to comprise my ‘OER textbook” for the course.  I made sure any video I chose had closed captions.  However, I did not do an accessibility check on every website and PDF I wanted to include. My next step was to submit my course for a review by the college’s accessibility people.

My course failed.  Every one of my modules had problems.  While only one of my videos had inaccurate captions, many of the websites I wanted to use had improperly nested headings, missing Alt-text, and tables without headers.  Almost all my PDF files had issues such as “no tag information” or “tables do not have headers.”  Fixing any of those issues is completely beyond my current level of skill and nothing that a college instructor has been expected to know how to do.  For example, when I emailed the reviewer with a question about how to make the PDFs accessible, the reviewer replied, “Fixing pdfs is no easy feat if you don’t have the source documents.” Of course I don’t have the source documents! I just have the PDF I found online.

Just for kicks, I decided to do an accessibility check of my own.  Using the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, I evaluated the “Accessibility and Universal Design” page on the college’s website. Oops!  It has some issues.  Clearly, we all have work to do to reach this goal.

Screen shot of WAVE summary of Foothill College Accessibility and Univeral Design page